Baby gate

This past weekend we started on a new project: building a baby / dog gate for the bottom of the stairs. When the kids come over they often bring their dogs which we don’t want upstairs and at some point our grand son,  Sawyer will be wandering about and stairs are not an desirable early adventure.

D3U_7344So we need to make a gate at the bottom of the stairs . However the end of the stair is exposed and wider than there is clearance on either side. So an ordinary swinging gate wont cut it.

After searching for a bit we came across a post at: that was close to what I had in mind!. SO here was the jumping off point for the new design.

Design constraints:

  • Made of oak or ash ot match the existing wood work, yet not weigh a ton
  • Pivot out of the way on the inside of the stairs
  • Stain to match existing wood work as this is likely to be in place for 10 years or so.
  • Use the CNC router (yes I still need to show pay back for the $$$ invested)

2016-02-10 19_22_50-gate.skp - SketchUp MakeInitial rough design was done in Sketchup, to slim out the spindles I went with “lollipop ends”. They would be a pain to do manually but a perfect excuse for the CNC make them .

Stock is 1/2″ thick ash. This was to use up some planks I had that were a bit on the thin side and save weight compared to oak.

The spindle drawing was exported from Sketchup and imported into Vcarve Pro.

From there it was copied and I laid it to do multiples form one board. Several things to VCarve Pro - [spindles]watch out for:

  • Auto tab placement in this case is useless. You need to place the tabs yourself to make them line up with each other rather than air.
  • Add more tabs than you think you will need. Sometimes the wood will spring as it is cut due to internal stresses. You don’t want to have the pieces ruined due to the tabs breaking  due to stress.
  • Make sure you have adequate material left for your clamps and consumable clamp ends if “cutting it close” to fit the available stock

So the with the first piece I got 3 spindles cut before the board warped and broke apart (hence the lots of tabs requirement). Plus I was seeing more chatter / roughness than I would like with 4 tabs per piece . Second  plank was done with 6 tabs per piece. Much better cut quality and  it held together. Here is a sample of the CNC router cutting the spindles – sped up after the first cuts.

I then moved the gantry to the far end  to clear off the parts and place the blank for the new one. On removing the pieces, I see the waste board has the outline of part of the last spindle — oh oh – router bit slipping in the collet – I must tighten more next time. I then reset the bit, put in the new blank and then go to move the gantry and – nothing.  System is in emergency stop and on further investigation I find one of the stepper drivers for the Y axis is malfunctioning.

Bummer. I had hoped to run a bunch of parts over the weekend and the stepper drivers are 1 week short of the 1 year warranty limit.

D3U_7339Even with the failure I had almost enough spindles cut to make the gate.  One had to be cut by hand on the bandsaw and then cleaned up with hand plane, scraper and sander   –what a pain. So we had the parts ready for staining and assembly the first day although with the CNC failure my mood was not great. We pre-stained the parts and added 2 coats of garnet shellac to better match the yellowing of the 20 year old wood.

D3U_7342Assembly went rather well.  The shot above shows the spindles with the lollipop ends. This photo shows the gate with the cover side glued on.

Beef Brisket – sous vide and smoke

We had a craving for slow cooked smoked  brisket.  I have tried a couple of times in the past with corned beef but that was too salty (even after soaking over night in a pot of water). We wanted this for Saturday night dinner so I was running short on cooking time (most recommend 13-16 hours at 225-250) and some sort of mix of smoker and wrapping or steaming.  Final target temp 195-203 but testing for tenderness to see when it is truly done

With ideas in mind and research in hand, the experiment begins…

Teal picked up a whole “packer cut” brisket, 14lbs at Costco. . She liberally applied one of my rubs to it and set it aside in the “big fridge”  (that is the garage in the winter). This set  for 8 hours. 24-48 hrs would probably be better but were running short on time.

The whole brisket was then cut lengthwise and the halves vacuum bagged. The reason for the cut was that my biggest bags are only 11″ wide rolls and it would not fit otherwise. More surface area also means more smoke and spice flavor.

The bagged meat was then put in the canning kettle with the Anova Cookerset for 170. This ran overnight for 11 hours. Next time, I will need to cover the kettle as the water level dropped almost 2″ over night . When the meat was unbagged, there was about 5 cups of juice and a cup of rendered fat. Juice was saved for later.

D3U_7317The Big Green Egg (BGE) was started , the Heatermeter hooked up and set for 240. The meat was on at 7AM. Here is a shot of the meat as it first goes on the smoker. The internal temp at this point is about 155-160 degrees.

Cherry chunks are providing the smoke flavor.

The reason that there are 3 pieces i on one half I separated the flat and point / deckle muscles. The other half was left intact as it was not quite so thick at the point end.

brisket_temp_plot7 hours in the smoker and the temps were approaching the 190 range and it was feeling tender and I was afraid of it drying out if left on longer. So it was pulled off and put in a large covered pan in the oven with the juice that was saved from the sous vide step. Set for 200 degrees for 3 more hours.

Temperature curves are bit odd, with the big piece seen in the top left rising and then falling. You can see also at the beginning I let the BGE get too hot while tending to other things before putting the meat on.

We had most of the kids and their spouses (Elyse, Paul, David and Kelly)  over for dinner and the unanimous decision was that this was definitely a keeper recipe. Tasty, juicy meat. Sides were twice baked stacked potatoes,  green beans with garlic, sesame and lemon as well as Teal’s buttermilk biscuits. This photo shows just part of the meat. Note the nice smoke ring seen on the left.

Definitely not a high speed recipe (who would rush smoked meat anyway?), but one that is handily done in just over one day. D3U_7321



Sous Vide cooking – steaks

This past summer I talked Teal into letting me get a an Anova Culinary Bluetooth Precision Cooker. It was a bit of a stretch as she once again thought I was crazy and then crazier still when we then went to Costco and picked up an enormous roast.

The roast was portioned out into 1.5-2″ thick slices and seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and fresh thyme, marjoram and oregano. Each was then vacuum sealed, dated and thrown in the freezer, except for  for the first dinner.  First steak was cooked at 129 degrees for 90 min. We have since moved to 130 for 2 hours as the sweet spot for these steaks as our standard.

Prior to grilling remove as much fat as you can. This prevents flare ups and a sooty / bitter exterior. You want a clean crisp dark brown but not black surface. Grill needs to be blazing hot 700-900 degrees for 2-3 min per side. I use the Big Green Egg but you can get similar heat by placing the grill right on top of the charcoal chimney.  Note that the sliced steak photo is NOT the way to go – trim the fat and life is much easier.

The technique works perfectly whether doing 1 or 6 of these . Perfectly consistent and fork tender.


The Serious Eats and Anova web sites provide lots of ideas for Sous Vide cooking.  I also strongly recommend: The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Scienceby Kenji Lopez Alt. I first ran across his posts on Serious Eats and the book is a must have for anyone who is looking to go from just experimenting a bit to really understanding what they are doing in the kitchen.

CNC touch plate

The CNC router has achieved functional status. That is I can now with modest effort actually make useful things. These can be furniture pieces or parts for the router or other tools.

One of the hard parts has been zeroing out each of the  axis. X and Y i have been doing with a standard edge finder. I particularly like the 1/2 inch diameter ones like this one: Brown & Sharpe 599-792 Edge Finder Single. The smaller diameter (typically .2″ diameter touch) are bit small for woodworking due to the rougher surface of the wood and the large ones seem to be easier for me without false indications of the edge.

The way I am currently setting up my fixturing on the CNC table, I have a left size (x axis work zero)  fence and some movable stops from Rockler in the table slots. This works out quite well. I measure from the stops / fence to the home position and modify the zero references and I am off and running for several projects.

The hard part has been easily zeroing out for cutter height. This has to be done after each tool change and is just plain tedious. So I was determined to set up a touch plate and have that working with the Mach 4 controller software. This took a little bit of time. First was getting the Mach 4 “Probe” input  working.  It requires at least version 2803 of the Mach 4 software which I am using with the Ethernet Smooth Stepper (ESS) version 130 software.   The touch plate is simply a block of acrylic plastic about 3/8″ thick  with a sheet of brass mounted on top and connected to the “Probe” input.  The router spindle itself is grounded for safety and this conveniently completes the circuit for the touch plate.

The idea is to drive the Z axis down at modest speed until it touches the plate, and then it backs off slightly (~0.1″) and then moves downward very slowly to touch again for the final height.  Once complete, the height of the touch plate is subtracted off and you now have the height of your base (spoil) board on which the project will rest. This is all great in concept but the Mach4 software does not complete this for you. So I had to modify the UI / Screen set, add a new button and some scripting to do this.  This is one of the points where having an active user community helps tremendously. Searching for help on the Mach4 forums I came across a thread on this topic and some script code from another user “DazTheGas” see the message thread.  I had to convert from metric to inch measurements for the movements and enter the height of my touch plate (.487″). This works great. Much easier than manual zeroing and I don’t have to worry about breaking small diameter tools or chipping the carbide on bigger ones.  You can see the video of the process here


Lembeh Straight Diving 2015

In October of 2105 we went to Indonesia with the group from Underwater Connection. The primary destination was Lembeh Straight. Lembeh is well known for what is often referred to as “muck diving”. It is really that you are diving on a black sand bottom. The depths are typically quite shallow (<30 feet) and visigbility is not great. The slightest movement can easily stir up clouds of debris and swirling sand which takes minutes to settle back down. The goal of this diving is to see the many rare and unusual critters that inhabit this area.  It is macro photography heaven.

Blue Ring Octopus

We stayed at Kasawari Lembeh resort. This is a small boutique resort with excellent service and attention to detail. One of the key details was the small groups on the dive boats. Typically 6 divers to a dive guide.  The guides are a necessity. We were looking for critters that were well camouflaged and often the size of your fingernail. We often wondered : “How did they see that?”  However, after a few dives we started spotting some on our own but still not with the regularity of the guides.

On many trips we feel lucky to see an octopus or a small group of squid on a trip. Here we had the fun of seeing as many as 5 species in a single dive! These included coconut octopus, mimic octopus, wonderpus, blue ring, flamboyant cuttlefish and more.  Dozens of nudibranchs (including mating couples),  and an endless variety for shrimp and crabs.

A sample of the photos can be found here: Lembeh Straight Critters 2015

These were taken with  a Nikon D300S, Nikon 60mm macro, Subsee+10 wet diopter, Ikelite housing with glass flat port, Ikelite DS125 strobe and a Light and Motion Sola 600 as a focus light. The side lighting pf the focus light was extremely helpful to find the target and actually provided nice fill in of the shadows.  The overall murky conditions were best suited to macro. I did not get a chance to do any significant wide angle shots. For those I use a Tokina 10-17 and Ikelite 8″ dome with a single strobe and diffuser.

Rebuild in progress

I am in the process of overhauling my website and postings. In the meantime you can find my old boatbuilding website here: Riviera Construction Project.

In the last few years I have been letting my projects, comments and photos get scattered. This has resulted in a mix of items on Facebook, columns I have written and   various forums with the unfortunate consequence of not having a single place to go and find my prior posts which are located at:

  • Glen-l boatbuilding forum  – I was active while building and I authored  a column for the monthly newsletter for a few years.
  • Wisconsin Woodworkers Guild – I wrote a monthly column while I was president.
  • Facebook – Lots of posts , notes and photo albums including the majority of my dive photos, but not very accessible to the general public
  • Youtube – I have a Youtube Channel that will be gaining more content. Currently mostly dive videos.
  • Southbend lathe group – Superb resource for those interested in South Bend Lathes. It was a huge help when I rebuilt my SBL 13.
  • Hobby Machinist – Another great resource and most helpful while I rebuilt my Bridgeport Mill
  • CNC Zone – Current CNC router project resource

and more – you get the idea. Lots of scatter.

So now I will be consolidating everything back here. It will take some time to gather the various pieces back as well as get the new content posted.

The impetus for all of this was my CNC router project.  This is another scratch built project.   I wanted to document the build and resources as I did with the boat and not just have it in another web site’s forum.